A village girl empowers other girls to change

Chanda Jat
Chanda Jat

Chanda Jat (18) belongs to ­Phalichada, a village in ­Udaipur district, Rajasthan. The average girl in this region lives within conservative social boundaries and is accustomed to putting aside her dreams — be it stepping out of home to play or completing her education — for a life of domesticity, marred by early marriage and motherhood, endless household chores and a very real threat of domestic violence. Chanda, however, is no average girl. With the support of her mother, she has succeeded in becoming an exception to the norm.

She started out like others. When just 18 months old,  she was engaged. As she stepped into her teens, her in-laws started pressurising her father, a trucker, to get her married.  She, however, wanted to continue her schooling. When she was in Class 9 her ‘husband’s’ family gave an ultimatum and that’s when her father decided that it was high time she gave up her studies.

However, Chanda decided to fight back. Fortunately, she had the staunch backing of her grandfather, mother and siblings. With the family united on this issue, her father relented, but with a warning: she only had one year to complete her Class 10 and then she would have to comply.

It’s her goal to help at least 100 girls who have dropped out of school to fill out their forms for open examinations and enable them to get back to education.

This borrowed time changed the course of her entire life, giving her the opportunity to discover the joys of playing volleyball. Her eyes light up as she says, “Volleyball is a no fuss sport. All one needs is a net stretched across two poles, a ball and one is set to play.”

Along with a few other girls who were keen to play, she approached the sports teacher at school to coach them. The teacher knew that parents would strongly disapprove of this move and insisted that each one bring a signed permission letter from home. Chanda knew that her father would never agree —  she had seen him get violent, even beat up her mother, when his wishes were flouted. So she simply forged his signature. It was a daredevil act but Chanda saw this as a step in the direction of her dreams.

As it turned out, this was a wise move as she was natural at playing volleyball. She was lithe, talented and had a passion for the game. With time, she gained proficiency and participated in tournaments, which sometimes required her to travel. Again, it worked out well as her father’s work kept him away from home for long intervals and he rarely knew what was happening in his absence. She had her mother’s tacit support.

Unfortunately, as her sporting ability grew, Chanda slipped in her studies and eventually failed in her Class 10 exams. Disheartened, for a while, she could not bring herself to re-enrol. But not one to sit at home, she spent time working along with the rest of the family on their small farm. During this period, too, she learnt a new skill — riding a motorbike!

One day, as she was zipping around her village, a rare sight in the hinterland, Chanda caught the eye of some social activists from Vikalp Sansthan, a non-profit working to end gender violence in the area. She related her story and sought information on their activities.  When she learnt that Vikalp was engaging with rural communities to spread awareness on violence against women and enable girls to stand up for their rights, she linked up with them. Says Chanda, “In the very first meeting I attended, I realised that my problem was not mine alone. Many girls are faced with a similar situation because of the prevalent social taboos. This narrow mindset has to change.”

Connecting with Vikalp rekindled a sense of hope. She wanted to finish her studies and pursue sports with the ultimate aim of becoming a Physical Training Instructor. She cleared her Class 10 exams and is now in Class 12.

At the same time, with her newfound understanding of social issues, Chanda has been reaching out to other female dropouts from nearby villages. She meets their parents and tries to convince them to re-enrol their daughters, sharing her experiences to motivate them. Her goal is to help at least 100 girls who have dropped out of school to get back to education through open education.

Through all of this, volleyball has been the constant that has given her immense satisfaction, and she has also roped in others girls. Chanda says doing different things is good, especially for girls, because it helps increase self-confidence, sharpen skills and will eventually result in breaking down gender stereotypes.

This spirit to overturn the status quo led her to participate and travel with street plays that deal with such complex issues. Of course, whatever she did, Chanda could not change her father’s outlook and had to contend with his wrath every step of the way.

Then something amazing happened late 2015. Chanda was selected to participate in an International Girl Child Day event organised by the Asian Girls Campaign and The Garden of Hope Foundation in Taipei City, Taiwan. Although she knew her father would bitterly oppose it, she plucked up the courage to defy him and travel abroad with support from her mother and Vikalp members. She was not familiar with the procedures of foreign travel but that did not deter her. In Taiwan she was conferred with the Community Development Award 2015, and selected as a brand ambassador for Asian Girls Campaign.

While the award is special to Chanda, it’s the gift she got when she returned which is most valuable to her. Her father finally felt proud of her achievements and welcomed her with open arms. He has now given her the freedom to choose what she wants to do with her life. A visibly relieved and happy Chanda is busy doing what she loves — teaching volleyball to girls across 10 villages as part of Vikalp’s Sports for Empowerment Programme.

Her steely resolve has helped Chanda tide over the difficult times; she believes it’s only going to get better from here on.

© Women’s Feature Service

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